Christian Bioethics, 10: 137–153, 2004 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: 1380-3603 print DOI: 10.


Christian 102Taylor Taylor NCHB 43482 2 1 2004 C. Sexual 10.1080/13803600490898029 4 Carlton & Reorientation Bioethics Francis & FrancisTaylor Inc.Therapy and Francis 325 Chestnut StreetPhiladelphiaPA191061380-3603

Sexual Reorientation Therapy: An Orthodox Perspective
Clark Carlton
Tennessee Technological University Cookeville, Tennessee, USA
Downloaded from at University of Oklahoma on July 3, 2012

This article evaluates the phenomenon of sexual reorientation therapy from the standpoint of Orthodox Christian theology. It is argued that homosexual desire is the product of the fall of mankind and cannot be considered “normal.” At the same time, however, reorientation therapies, whether secular or Christian, are inherently reductionistic and fail to address the underlying spiritual pathologies involved in homosexual desire (or any other deep-seated passion). The purpose of therapeia in the Orthodox Church is the psychosomatic transfiguration of the whole person into the image of Christ, not merely the cessation of homosexual activity or the “reidentification” of one’s “lifestyle.” KEYWORDS: ethics, homosexuality, asceticism

I. INTRODUCTION We are, so social conservatives tell us, in the midst of a “culture war,” and there is no public issue that sends more rhetorical lead flying than homosexuality. The year 2004 is a long way from the 1950s, with Ward and June Cleaver leading a traditional “nuclear family.” Much to the chagrin of Pat Buchanan and Cal Thomas, things that were once spoken of in hushed tones—if at all—are now public issues. Homosexuals are no longer willing to hide their identity and what is to them a basic fact of their lives; and social conservatives, both Christian and secular, can no longer pretend that homosexuals do not exist at every level of society.
Address correspondence to Clark Carlton, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Philosophy, Box 5052, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN 38505, USA. E-mail: ccarlton@


the position of the Orthodox Church in regard to homosexual activity is that homoerotic desire is the result of the fall of man and that homosexual activity is a sin. the historic position of the Christian Church on homosexuality is of little consequence for the general public. persons who identify themselves as homosexuals1 cannot be denied the basic civil rights guaranteed to all citizens. Regardless of the Church’s view of the morality of homosexual acts. The question of reorientation therapy. the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment.138 C. This rejection of “conversion” therapy is clearly based on the a priori assumption that change is not possible. One . is not only one that comes within the Church’s purview. This issue involves the determination of “normality” and the role of “therapy” in our modern culture. the American Psychiatric Association (APA) stated: Therefore. or even in the Boy Scouts? Should civil rights legislation be expanded to include “sexual orientation”? Or—and this is potentially the most explosive question of all—should homosexuals be offered the opportunity to change their orientation. however. I know of no one who suggests that homosexuals be forced into therapy against their at University of Oklahoma on July 3. that homosexual orientation is in some sense “normal” for some people.2 however. in a constitutional democracy such as ours. In contrast to this presupposition. and 2) it may actually harm the patient. There is more to this approach. All the literature that I have read explicitly states that desire for change is the crucial element in the success of reorientation therapy—so the question of the ethics of such therapy must turn on the propriety of the enterprise in and of itself. 2012 A priori assumptions work both ways. Thus. to go “straight”? Inasmuch as most of these questions are public policy issues that are to be decided either by the body politic or the courts. Orthodoxy approaches the question from a position that is diametrically opposed to that of the secular therapeutic community. In its position statement on the issue. The dominant position of the secular therapeutic community is that such therapy is unethical because 1) it does not work. such as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.oxfordjournals. however. Carlton Americans have entered the twenty-first century pondering questions that would have been unimaginable to Ward and June: Should homosexuals be allowed to marry? Should they be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. it is one that demands a response from the Church.3 Downloaded from http://cb.

homosexuality must be placed within the context of the fall of man and its aftermath. a positive evaluation of reorientation therapies from an Orthodox perspective. this chapter is not about homosexuality per se. no real theological reason is given in these passages. While the Orthodox would certainly agree with advocates of such therapy that homosexual desire is not natural and is curable—to deny this would be tantamount to denying the power of God—the nature of reorientation therapies is in many respects at variance with the Orthodox understanding of therapy. there is no biblical word for “homosexual. Whatever else one may wish to say about the subject. Indeed. In what follows I shall endeavor to explain this. there are many passages in the Scriptures in which homosexual activity of one sort or another is condemned. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen. In short. For one thing. being understood by the things that are made. even His eternal power and Godhead. however. In the Old Testament (OT). therefore. we must turn to the first chapter of Romans. including falsifying weights and measures and (heterosexual) adultery.” and the words translated as “homosexual” in some modern translations are problematic and open to varying interpretations. This. when they Downloaded from http://cb.” However. it is about the fall of man. is enough to guarantee that genuine healing does not take place. One cannot help but feel some sympathy with homosexuals who argue that the Christian use of the OT is highly selective. In Romans 1. Paul provides precisely a theological analysis of the phenomenon of homosexuality. they remain fundamentally secular enterprises. in spite of whatever religious motivations and trappings that may be added to popular reorientation therapies. THE ORTHODOX UNDERSTANDING OF HOMOSEXUALITY To understand the Orthodox Christian approach to the question of homosexuality. so that they are without excuse: Because that. that homosexual acts are a sin is simply presented as a fact. From an Orthodox perspective. 2012 . Of course. however. this. At any rate. if one is to approach it from within a genuinely Christian standpoint. II. lots of things are condemned in the OT as an abomination.oxfordjournals. yet these passages fall short of providing a sound theological basis for addressing the issue. St.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 139 might expect. To be sure. is not the case. homosexual acts are clearly and unambiguously condemned as “an abomination. it would not be an overstatement to say that the two thousand year history of the Christian proscription against homosexual acts stands or falls with Romans 1. in and of at University of Oklahoma on July 3.

and to birds. so the new theory goes. In Romans 1. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts. the difference between male and female is presented as a type of man’s relationship with God. St. were this passage really about natural law. who is blessed for ever. and their foolish heart was darkened. Indeed. Interestingly. and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. In Ephesians. or the Church. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. (Romans 1:20–27) Downloaded from http://cb. What St. in a very real sense. three things become clear: First.140 C. is sinful because it is unnatural. Paul’s point in this chapter is not about natural law. Third. Amen. Israel. however. Throughout both testaments the disexuality of human nature is presented typologically. homosexual desire is an image or icon of the fall itself. it is the type of creation’s . The male—the husband—is the type of God or Christ. Admittedly. St. they became fools. which can only be overcome through genuinely Christian—that is to say churchly—therapy. homosexual desire and acts are perfectly natural. leaving the natural use of the woman. this new twist on Romans 1 shows imagination. according to this approach. burned in their lust one toward another. but he goes on to say that he is talking of the mystery of Christ and the at University of Oklahoma on July 3. this new interpretation would have to be given some credence. and creeping things. but those who act contrary to their own sexual nature. 2012 This passage is most often interpreted from the standpoint of natural law theory. and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. From an Orthodox interpretation of this passage.oxfordjournals. and fourfooted beasts. to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie. but became vain in their imaginations. contemporary homosexual apologists have turned this argument on its head. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men. Paul describes Christian marriage and then says that it is a great mystery. Paul presents homosexual desire as the type of the fall itself. homosexual desire is a passion. That is. Professing themselves to be wise. Therefore what St. However. while the female—the wife—is the type of humanity. they glorified Him not as God. St. is someone who is naturally heterosexual performing homosexual acts. neither were thankful. Paul is condemning here. men with men working that which is unseemly. but about the nature of the fall of man. Carlton knew God. Homosexuality. Second. Paul is condemning is not homosexuality per se. homosexual desire is a result of the fall. To the person who has a genuine homosexual orientation.

The point is that homosexuality is a at University of Oklahoma on July 3. a married man notices a beautiful woman and feels the pangs of lust. much in the same way that one chooses whether or not to cheat on one’s spouse. alcoholics. he fends off the lustful thoughts. and excitable parts. It has been clinically connected with emphysema. that is. The same aspect of the soul that gives courage to the hero in battle gives energy and determination to the soul enslaved to the appetites. While there is a good deal of truth to this—certainly neither St. For the most part. St. He immediately reproaches—gets angry—with himself and reminds himself that he is married and that adultery would jeopardize his marriage. 2012 .Sexual Reorientation Therapy 141 attempt at self-deification. Thus rebuked. THE ORTHODOX UNDERSTANDING OF THE PASSIONS It is often argued that the writers of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church considered homosexual acts to be simply a choice. consider someone who is addicted to cigarettes. In Book IV of The Republic. The appetites have charge of the person’s life. For example. Reason keeps the appetite under control. appetitive. homosexual desire is not only a product of the fall. Paul nor St. the excitable faculty is employed by the appetites. This is why smokers. Downloaded from http://cb. the rational aspect seeks the good and leads man toward it. but continues to do it because he or she is in the control of the desire for nicotine.5 III. Paul refers explicitly to homosexual desire. In other words. a perversion of man’s natural sexual energies. John Chrysostom knew anything of “homosexuality” as it is conceived in modern terms— we should not be too quick to dismiss the biblical and patristic injunctions against homosexuality as simply being the fruits of an unenlightened age. not merely homosexual acts.4 Thus. The person surely knows by now that smoking is bad for the body.oxfordjournals.6 In the normally functioning soul. and justice is established within his soul. In a diseased or unjust soul. but for the sake of the gratification of desires. Instead of siding with the reasoning aspect of the soul. Plato speaks of the soul as divided into the rational. In Romans 1. When the appetite cannot be satiated—think of a smoker forced to endure an eight-hour smoke-free flight—he or she becomes irritable. the Church Fathers adopted a three-part division of the soul common among Greek philosophers. the desire for “another of the same kind” instead of “another of a different kind” is an image of the very nature of the fall. heart disease and cancer. and drug addicts are willing to go to extraordinary means to satisfy their craving. it is a passion. The smoker knows smoking is bad. however. with the aid of the excitable power. the appetites overrule reason and man lives not for the sake of the good. To use a modern example.

that drunkenness and gluttony are passions. Maximus the Confessor. However. but went much further than Plato in elucidating how the soul works—developing a true psyche-ology. Furthermore. This means that for the Orthodox. deformed. and certainly anyone who has counseled them. and diverted from their original—natural—purpose. It is the way nature now operates that is affected by the fall.7 Just as there are physical energies and faculties and spiritual energies and faculties in man.” While the Orthodox Church has never accepted the idea of original sin prevalent in Western Christianity. This is a very important point for our present discussion.8 Orthodoxy certainly realizes that we are born into a fallen world—a world that does not function as it was originally intended. however. it is not the principle (logos) of nature that is fallen. Even if a genetic basis could be found for homosexuality. there are some passions that are so ingrained within us they are beyond our conscious decision-making power. so there are passions of both the body and soul. One does not wake up one morning and suddenly “decide” to be attracted to persons of the same at University of Oklahoma on July 3. one could not then argue that homosexual desire is “normal” any more than one could argue that being an alcoholic or seriously obese is “normal. According to St. It is commonplace among conservative Christians to treat homosexuality as if it were simply a matter of choice. It is widely accepted in scientific circles that there may be a biological (genetic) predisposition in some people toward alcoholism or obesity. This does not change the fact. according to Orthodox tradition. knows this is not the case. The passions. 2012 . Although we often speak of “fallen nature. There is no place for the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity in Orthodox theology. to say that homosexual desire is an involuntary passion is in no way to diminish the fact that it is a passion—a corruption of man’s natural sexual energies. but rather nature’s mode (tropos) of existence. Yet anyone who actually knows homosexual persons. the Fathers speak of both voluntary and involuntary passions. Homosexual desire must be classed among the involuntary passions.142 C. The natural man.9 God’s creation is entirely good and remains so even after the fall of mankind. The tragedy of man’s predicament—and this has direct bearing on the topic of homosexual desire—is that we are so used to this fallen manner of existence that we take it for granted.oxfordjournals. the healing of the passions involves not the eradication of the passions but their transformation—their transfiguration. In other words. or the “fleshly man” Downloaded from http://cb. Carlton The Fathers generally adopted this Platonic schema.” this term needs further refinement. are natural faculties and energies of the soul and body that have been corrupted.

it is of modern origin. Yet.oxfordjournals. It is only when we encounter someone who is free of the passions. What a person is is a matter of biology and genetics. From this bit of linguistic archeology. there is no “ontology” to homosexuality. there is no such word in either Latin or Greek. is at first traumatic.” Indeed. in fact. The homosexual feels that his desires are natural because that is all he has ever known. of course.10 A person truly free of the passions seems to us to be inhuman. there are persons who have a homoerotic orientation.” from the musical La Cage aux Folles. The Saints are those who have been healed of the passions and who live life according to nature—what we mistakenly consider supernatural existence. Paul would have it. We take the shadows for reality and define ourselves according to our passions. This self-identification is. living revelations of what human life is supposed to be. But. is instructive here. This is precisely the one point where the Christian Church cannot deviate from Her historical stand without changing Her entire theology. To be sure. Who a person is— and this is what concerns the Orthodox theologian—is the product of man’s freedom. This view is normative for the Christian Church. The gay anthem. that we begin to realize our true situation. we are able to draw a theological conclusion: for the writers of the Scriptures and for the Church Fathers. They are living revelations of God.” For a man to describe himself as “gay” (or a woman as a “lesbian”) is to grant ontology to his desires and define himself according to his passions. however. and no amount of “natural law theory” will convince him otherwise. 2012 .org/ at University of Oklahoma on July 3. The world could not deal with Christ—the first authentically human person—and it has not dealt much better with His Saints. even today. this orientation may be exclusive and it may very well have some basis in genetics. the natural or normative state of existence. It is significant that there is no biblical word for “homosexual. This realization. a creature from another world. there is no such thing as “a homosexual. Saints there are. it is the subjective realization of what it means to have been created in the image of God. we are unaware of our true nature. it is an objectification of human life based on the givenness of (fallen) nature. “I am what I am. however. For the Church to accept someone as “gay” would be to accept the fallen state of man as the natural state. from a genuinely biblical perspective. We refuse to believe it. considers his fallen mode of existence to be normal. Like the inhabitants of Plato’s cave. at the heart of the contemporary gay movement. Thus what we consider to be “natural” is from a biblical perspective unnatural or sub-natural.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 143 as St. someone who lives life according to true nature. Downloaded from http://cb. and what we consider to be “supernatural” is.

namely that there is no analogy of being between God and man. This may seem axiomatic. but in reality it is not. God’s presence is fire and judgement. this is not the case.144 C. that Christians are called to become partakers of the divine nature. For him. it affects man’s ability to relate to God. To understand the Orthodox notion of therapy. therefore. God’s presence is light and life. therefore. Such anthropomorphic notions are unacceptable to Orthodox theology. Since at least the time of Anselm’s Cur deus homo. adjusted to society. one might reasonably expect a positive evaluation of Christian reorientation therapies. the similarities between the Orthodox notion of therapy and that which is practiced within the Protestant world are superficial. 2012 . He has no pride to wound. does not affect God’s ability to relate to man (as if God were an upper caste Hindu prevented from coming into contact with an Untouchable). is cleansed of his passions and. While there are obvious parallels. Given this Orthodox insistence that Christianity is first and foremost a therapeutic science.11 Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science designed to heal the passions and lead man to his natural state in communion with God. ORTHODOX THEOLOGY AS THERAPY According to the Greek bishop Hierotheos at University of Oklahoma on July 3. because they violate the first principle of theology. Sadly. open to God’s love. but man’s. The difference is not that God hates sinners and loves the righteous (He loves both without differentiation). however. The Saint. Sin. The Orthodox Church honors the Saints because they are the living proof (martyrs— witnesses) that the therapy works. To understand this. that it is possible for man to be healed. and its purpose is the healing of the human soul. For him. God is impassible and unchangeable. the Orthodox Church is a spiritual hospital. In the Scriptures we are told that no one has ever seen God and lived and that God is a consuming fire. sin is not God’s problem. Metropolitan Hierotheos describes what the Orthodox mean by the cure of the soul: We are not struggling simply to become good people. yet we are also told that the pure in heart shall see God. we must first take a closer look at the Orthodox understanding of therapy and cure and then examine current reorientation therapies in light of the Orthodox standard.oxfordjournals. one must understand that for the Orthodox. however. Western Christianity has been saddled with the notion that man’s sin somehow affects God—it insults His infinite honor and calls forth His wrath. The aim of therapeutic treatment is not to make people sociable and to be Downloaded from http://cb. on the other hand. Carlton IV. but that the sinner is prevented by his sin from experiencing God as light and life.

p. according to the phrase of St. They are so ingrained within us that they appear quite natural. According to Metropolitan Hierotheos. is “born from above. As the author of the Makarian Homilies puts it. but it is to guide them to communion with God. and they are able to direct others because of their own experience. These therapies are the Church’s ascetic disciplines: prayer. To give but one example. They are deviations and malfunctions of man’s most basic bodily and spiritual faculties. It is in confession that the hidden tumors of the soul are laid bare for treatment.oxfordjournals. 151). man receives. the passion of anger is frequently tied to the passion of lust. The passions are a spiritual pathology. and for this vision of God not to be a fire that will consume them but a light which will illuminate them. and the cure of the soul is not merely a matter of behavior modification. the “medicine of immortality. the Church is a spiritual hospital. In a hospital there are doctors who have knowledge of the disease and. monks and nuns). Furthermore. have learned the best way to treat it. For every passion that comes to the surface. but not exclusively. 2012 . The hospital also contains the facilities and medicines needed to treat the disease. The medicines and facilities of the hospital are the Holy Mysteries (sacraments). fasting. the passions are related to one another in very complex ways.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 145 an anthropocentric at University of Oklahoma on July 3. without ourselves Downloaded from http://cb. (1994. and obedience. p. it is evident that the cure of the soul requires both the grace of God and the cooperation of the one seeking the cure. because that is where he or she will find treatment appropriate to the disease. They are at varying degrees along the way toward the cure of the soul. but their experience of having undergone spiritual treatment themselves. How then are these passions cured and the heart cleansed? A person with cancer would not go to a university or a mall for treatment. but to a hospital. From the above. In addition to all of these.” In the Holy Eucharist.” Confession and penance are the spiritual equivalent of surgery. vigil. The doctors are the spiritual fathers and mothers (usually. Ignatius of Antioch (1999. man is regenerated. the physician will prescribe various therapies. there is probably a complex of related passions at work in the deepest recesses of the soul. through experience. much in the same way that a cardiologist will prescribe cardiac rehabilitation therapy. 270)12 One must understand that the passions are not merely bad habits. manifesting itself in outward behavior. Their qualification is not an academic degree. In Baptism. “We do not reach the final stage of spiritual maturity through divine power and grace alone.

and refuses to exercise? I cannot stress enough the importance of ascetical effort. not mere moral improvement. Mark 9:29). as a mark of God’s approval.”13 To return to the medical analogy. . but neither on the other hand do we attain the final measure of freedom and purity as a result of our own diligence and strength alone. 2012 The goal of Orthodox therapy. 55) writes: Bodily passions are like wild animals. Indeed the ascetical Fathers repeatedly say that there is great virtue in the struggle itself. what good would it do for a doctor to prescribe expensive drugs to a bad cardiac patient. Gen. wrapped around us from our birth. simply refraining from outward sin is insufficient. indeed. In this way.146 C. Downloaded from at University of Oklahoma on July 3. unless he goes beyond the natural law—as Abraham went forth from his own land—and beyond his own limited state of development—as Abraham left his kinsmen (cf. is dispassion. that does not necessarily mean one has conquered all passions. but unless he enters into a state of spiritual contemplation. does ascetical effort guarantee sanctification if there is no accompanying union with God. As Bishop Hierotheos is at great pains to point out. refraining from committing physical homosexual acts may not be terribly difficult for many homosexuals. however much he strives to guard himself inwardly. if the patient insists on smoking. The man engaged in ascetic practice can keep the animals out of the noetic vineyard. he cannot keep the birds away. Ilias the Presbyter (1986. he will be liberated from the all-embracing hold of pleasure. 12:1). for it is this veil of pleasure. continues to eat food with high levels of salt and cholesterol. Even if one has been able to manage one’s bodily passions. Nor. Christ exclaimed that such demons can be expelled only through prayer and fasting (cf. Carlton making every effort. Of course. that prevents us from receiving complete freedom. however. Indeed the passions of the soul are more insidious and dangerous than those of the body. The man engaged in ascetic practice cannot rise above ethical propriety. Furthermore. therefore. For the Orthodox. but almost two thousand years of Christian history teaches that this is not the usual modus operandi. but this is not the same thing as healing. it is not beyond the power of God to simply remove passions or inordinate desires from us. When confronted by obstinate demons whom the Apostles were not able to exercise. In the context of homosexual desire. apart from any divine assistance. the purpose of all spiritual effort is true God-likeness. while passions of the soul are like birds. this is not the same as the stoic concept of dispassion. which opens the soul to the possibility of communion with God. p. The goal here is not an insensate state of apathy.oxfordjournals.

but the total transformation of the passions and. therefore. (1) The goal of human life is union with God. above). The first type of dispassion is observed in beginners and is “complete abstention from the actual committing of sin. Salvation presupposes.” as it were. 1994. however. the transcendence of man’s natural capacities. but of genuine God-likeness (theosis.oxfordjournals. 2012 There is no way to adequately explain Orthodox ascetical theology in a few paragraphs. is the complete rejection in the mind of all assent to evil thoughts. in those who are perfect. but because it cripples man’s ability to relate to God. Maximus sets out four degrees of dispassion. but union with God.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 147 but rather the redirection of man’s natural energies (Hierotheos. (2) Sin is the barrier between God and man not because it offends God. Sin is not merely the result of bad choices. First of all. to the Orthodox standard of therapy. 299–300) Downloaded from http://cb. (5) Salvation is. therefore. The second dispassion. This is conceived not in terms of moral imitation. with a brief summary that will at least provide some background for the critique of reorientation therapy that follows. pp. a process of healing—a therapeutic process. V. It seems from this passage that according to the degree of a man’s purity. the goal is transformation rather than eradication.” In this stage the man does not commit the acts outwardly. which occurs in the virtuous. albeit related. ultimately. sin becomes ingrained in man like a second nature. To put it another way. is found in the deified. this therapeutic process has as its goal not moral improvement. REORIENTATION THERAPY With this background let us consider why modern reorientation therapy fails to “measure up. (6) In keeping with the original goal of creation (1. The third dispassion. aspects of reorientation therapy that demand our attention. (4) Salvation is not access to a cosmic theme park (the popular view of heaven). and the fourth is the complete purging even of passion-free images. p. the healing of man’s passions and the restoration of his natural faculties. the corresponding dispassion is manifested. Allow me to conclude this section. (1994. in Greek): to become by grace what God is by nature. (3) With the fall of man. Bishop Hierotheos goes on to state that there are different levels of dispassion: St. 296). which are the malfunctioning of man’s natural at University of Oklahoma on July 3. which is complete quiescence of passionate desire. There are two separate. but is rooted in the passions. there is the psychological explanation .

Cy. not all homosexuals fit the pattern. homosexual orientation.148 at University of Oklahoma on July 3. By. D. it is not immediately evident which is the cause and which is the effect. but that does not mean that all or even a high percentage of the homosexual population as a whole fits the pattern. there are specifically Christian programs that combine such therapy with prayer and support. Even assuming that the majority of homosexuals have not properly gender identified with the same-sex parent. In other words. This explanation seems to be shared by both secular and religiously oriented therapists.15 This may or may not be accompanied by an overbearing relationship with the opposite-sex parent. namely those who are unhappy and come to the therapists for treatment.17 If this were the case. Cy. a stereotype. I would put it this way: Let y stand for the occasion in question. F. Part of the problem here is that therapists only work with a minute minority of homosexuals. I shall address each of these aspects in turn. C. The second problem is the sufficiency of this profile in explaining the origins of homosexuality. there are heterosexuals who fit the pattern to a tee. it is safe to say that the predominant theory is that homosexuality is a developmental disorder regarding gender identity. B. what conclusions can be drawn? First of all the presence of factor x in a subject that does not exhibit occasion y tells us that whatever the relationship between xand y. in this case.14 However. Carlton that lies behind most versions of this therapy. Byx. As in many cases of concomitant variation. D. Furthermore. There are two problems with this theory. If this is indeed the case. 2012 . and F stand for subjects. then we should see this pattern: Ayx. The stereotype of an effeminate man with an overbearing mother is just that. the reality is more like this: Ayx. If we say that x is the determinative factor for occasion y in any given subject. rather than the cause of later homosexual desire. If I may be permitted to address the problem as a logician for a moment. Cyx. Let A. this may well be the effect of a prior disposition. It may well be that a high percentage of those who come for treatment fit the profile. Thus. E. we have Ay.oxfordjournals. Byx. and D. prompting a crisis of his or her own gender identity.16 This failure to identify with the same-sex parent occurs in very early childhood. Not all reorientation therapists agree on the ultimate causes of homosexuality. D. where half of the subjects are homosexual and half are not. x cannot be considered a sufficient cause for y. The first problem has to do with the determination of causality. E. Fx. For whatever reasons—and therapists who hold this view acknowledge that each case is different—the homosexual fails to identify properly with the same-sex parent. E. Second. E. then gender identification therapy would be treating a symptom rather than the underlying cause. the instance Downloaded from http://cb. and F. Quite simply. However.

This is evidenced most convincingly by the fact that Exodus and many of its partner ministries insist on the importance of non-sexual. the Church. there does seem to be a general acceptance of the gender-identity theory. That one might actually be possessed by demons is never even considered. such as those promoted by Exodus International. that is. While all affirm that healing is possible. Perhaps it is because of this realization that Christian reorientation theories are generally less bold in their claims of success than their secular counterparts. Now I am not suggesting that homosexuality is caused by demons. these Christian therapies at least recognize the spiritual dimension of the problem. is at root a secular and reductionistic explanation for a phenomenon that is to a large degree spiritual and complex.18 In the same way. 2012 . merely trying to point out that gender identity theory. From what I have read and observed. This is perfectly in keeping with the Orthodox view that the passions are a complicated complex of factors. the union of man and woman in marriage is somehow related to the mystery of the union of Christ with His Bride. it is not so clear Downloaded from http://cb. This brings us to specifically Christian therapeutic programs. whatever limited merits it may have. Reorientation therapy is.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 149 of a heterosexual who fails to properly gender identify with the same-sex parent—and surely there are many—negates the possibility that failure to gender identify is the sole cause of homosexuality. is that it operates with the assumption that a gender-identity deficiency is the primary. therefore. Although Exodus refers homosexuals to a variety of different ministries. as St. some psychological and some. genetic or biochemical. and if. to treat homosexuality as merely a psychological developmental disorder is to ignore what may very well be the most important aspect of the issue. “possession” is nothing more than some sort of psychotic episode or disorder. the absence of factor x in subjects with occasion y negates the possibility that x is a necessary cause for y. Thus. I would argue that homosexual orientation is a multifaceted phenomenon with perhaps a multitude of possible causes. perhaps. same-sex relationships as a key factor in the healing at University of Oklahoma on July 3. Thus. the failure to gender identify can be considered neither a necessary nor sufficient cause of homosexuality. If Orthodox Christian theology is true. however. However. if not the only. cause. The problem with reorientation therapy. This does not mean that the failure to gender identify is not a possible cause (among many).oxfordjournals. As far as secular—and a great many Christian—therapists are concerned. if God has indeed created man in His image. Paul says. The case is somewhat analogous to the modern attitude toward demonic possession. reductionistic. then homosexual desire must be as much of a spiritual condition as a psychological or physical condition.

it is stated: “Studies suggesting change rates in the range of 30–50% are not unusual.” Religion-based therapy programs.” On the face of it. it appears that they really mean deliverance from the “homosexual lifestyle. this is a far cry from dispassion. Thus. This decrease. Certainly it is better to abstain from sin than commit it. which is the goal of Orthodox therapy. Indeed.” This is not. when groups such as Exodus offer deliverance from Downloaded from http://cb. But things are not that clear-cut and Christian reorientation advocates seem to realize this. The alcoholic is not said to be completely “cured. Similarly. although ‘success rates’ vary considerably and the measurement of change is problematic. however. the same thing as deliverance from a true homoerotic orientation. seem to focus more on behavior modification (avoiding sinful acts) and identity (disavowing the “gay” self-image). need not be complete for most theorists to claim “success. however. .exodusnorthamerica.150 C. with a corresponding decrease in homosexual desire. 2012 Further on in the same FAQ.oxfordjournals. the question of identity is of paramount importance: a Christian may certainly have homosexual desires. And the answer to that is yes! (www. An Exodus FAQ puts it this way: What’s your “success rate” in changing gays into straights? What you are really asking is whether there is realistic hope for change for men and women who do not want their sexual orientation to be homosexual.” but is helped to stay “on the wagon” and put his life back in order. No Orthodox Christian would deny that homosexual acts are sinful or that the “homosexual lifestyle” is at University of Oklahoma on July 3. Carlton that all believe that homosexuals can be converted into fully functional heterosexuals without any remaining homoerotic desires. I would argue that the closest analogy to Christian reorientation therapies would be Alcoholics Anonymous. the primary goal seems to be functional heterosexuality. Christian programs provide the wherewithal for a person to leave the “homosexual lifestyle” and find a new identity as a Christian within a loving community that will reinforce positive behavior and inhibit negative behavior (sin). there should be little problem in measuring success: one is either completely free of same-sex desire or one is not. an Orthodox Christian would be hard pressed to find anything necessarily wrong with such an approach. For the secular reorientation therapists. but a Christian cannot identify himself as “gay” and remain Christian.20 The fact of the matter is that the number of people who claim to have lost all same-sex desire is very small—certainly less than 30%–50% of those who have undergone therapy. Furthermore. However. however.

suffice it to say that the more correct term would be “person(s) with a homosexual orientation. this is not the same as dispassion and union with God. The Orthodox Church fully agrees with St. I am yielding to the modern convention of using the term “homosexual. Downloaded from http://cb. seems much less concerned with producing functioning heterosexuals than with healing emotional wounds and providing the person struggling with homosexuality the support needed to “re-identify” himself as a Christian and to avoid the commission of homosexual acts (in thought as well as deed). all of these therapies are fine as far as they go. for the Orthodox. on the other hand. This is a confession that the Church—and the Church alone—possesses the therapeutic science necessary to heal man of his passions. Admittedly. Christian therapy. this is not a very “ecumenical” sentiment. whether secular or Christian. 2. but that this change is less than the healing of the passions. therefore. Thus. however. 2012 .org/ at University of Oklahoma on July 3. it is a disease that renders man incapable of receiving God’s love as light and life.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 151 My problem with reorientation therapies. as do many Evangelical Protestants. Yet. Thus. Cyprian’s famous statement that there is no salvation outside the Church. To this end. he is bound to do so against the backdrop of his own Orthodox understanding of sin and salvation.” As this phrase is exceedingly cumbersome. There is nothing inherently wrong with either the secular or the Christian reorientation therapies. Where secular therapy is concerned. should not be construed to imply any “ontology” of sexual orientation. Alternate terms are “reparative” and “conversion” therapy. For reasons that shall become apparent. is not that they are incapable of producing some change. that because one had initiated a “relationship with Christ” one is definitively and irrevocably “saved. at the risk of beating a dead horse. ethics.oxfordjournals.” At this point in the discussion.” My use of “homosexual” as a substantive. When. but it is the belief of the Orthodox Church. The transfiguration of the passions is a necessary element of this process. however. I am reluctant to use the term “homosexual. Sin is not a legal barrier between man and God. The Orthodox do not assume. it is just that from the standpoint of eternity. salvation is viewed as a process. NOTES 1. Christian therapy is much to be preferred over secular therapy.” On the contrary. simply replacing homosexual lust with heterosexual lust is but a shallow victory. they do not go very far. Surely it is ethical to offer those struggling with homosexual desire the opportunity to find healing. Why are the Orthodox so insistent on this point? The answer lies in the Orthodox understanding of salvation outlined above. is a matter of salvation. an Orthodox Christian is asked to evaluate sexual reorientation therapies from an ethical perspective.

that this is a minority viewpoint. 1998. 16. Lesbian and Bisexual Issues and is dated September 11. It is clear in fact that the one who does many things contrary to reason never transforms his rational nature into irrational. because of its inclination which is produced sometimes in one sense. however. If the patient is unhappy as a homosexual and wants to change. 236C–D). p. 363–364. Cf. Romanides (2002.152 C. Lest I be accused of sleight of hand here. pp. 19. 9. or to speak in a manner more correctly. but is this not also an image of the fallen state of humanity—human nature obsessed with itself? 6. Makarios of Egypt (1986. freedom from the shameful passions. the sole cause must be the sufficient cause. 2012 . 96–108). pp. In Book VII of The Republic (515c–e). This is done without any prejudice as to the normality of homosexuality. Notice that St. it is the purification and sanctification of the heart that comes about through fully experienced and conscious participation in the perfect and divine Spirit. pp. 7. 15. This is perhaps the most cogently presented argument for the rights of homosexuals. Makarios of Egypt. In other words. Paul mentions women turning away from the natural desire for men before speaking of male homosexual desire. sometimes in another. One of the chief proponents of this theory is an Orthodox Christian. 17.10) makes this point. however. This inclination does not change the nature. I am making an exception in this case because this material is not scholarly material available from a library. Paul mentions lesbianism here. Andrew Sullivan ( at University of Oklahoma on July 3. 435a–445e). 1988. Moberly 1982 & 1983. In this section. 1986. 1998. Paul urges and invites each of us to attain? It is total cleansing from sin. 13. but it detours the movement. Cf. Carlton 3.exodusnorthamerica. St. p. Boston: Faber and Faber. at first. Plato (1968. However.> Downloaded from http://cb. See Bishop Kallistos Ware’s definition of “passion” in The Philokalia.” (St. I have drawn heavily from the writings of Metropolitan Hierotheos. Plato states that the man suddenly released from his fetters and turned toward the reality of life outside the cave would not. p. I particularly recommend The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition (1993) and Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers (1994). 14. I am normally loath to reference internet sites in formal papers. 8. tailoring their therapy to the desire of the patient. the point of the gender identity theory is that it is not the relationship with the opposite-sex parent that is determinative. There is an inherent narcissism in homosexual desire. Elizabeth Moberly. it changes the mode. 4. for in the Pauline typology it is creation—the female—that has turned from its natural desire for God—the male.” 10. 285). 5. Opscula Theologica et Polemica 20 (PG 91. 12. For a detailed discussion of the patristic appropriation of this schema see Staniloae (2002. but the failure to identify with the same-sex parent. Paul wanted to avoid that interpretation—but it does explain why St. our will is not in any way impeccable. 1. “Pure and simply human. Vol.oxfordjournals. This makes perfect sense in this context. while a sufficient cause need not be the sole cause. The overbearing mother and the “momma’s boy” is a common stereotype. and the acquisition of the highest virtue. The statement was prepared by the APA Committee on Gay. Those who wish to view Exodus materials may do so at <www. the therapist will act accordingly. Paul mentions male homosexual desire almost as an afterthought. The statement was unanimously adopted by the APA’s Board of Trustees during its meeting of December 11/12. Dr. This is not to suggest that male homosexuality is less sinful or somehow less of an image of the fall—no doubt St. Some Fathers treat the passions as an inherent evil to be eradicated. 18. believe his eyes. This is the only place I know of where the writers of Scripture mention lesbianism. 17–39). 11. 285). Maximus the Confessor. Cf. esp. I would argue. Some therapists are agnostic on the subject. this passage from the Makarian homilies: “What is the will of God that St.

Philip Sherrard. Romanides. (1983). Trans. E. St.). Plato. Newville and O. London: Kegan at University of Oklahoma on July 3. Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery. Crestwood. 116–117) lauds organizations such as Exodus as “invaluable” and affirms the possibility of true change. (1982). (1986). Opscula Theologica et Polemica.” REFERENCES Breck. Holmes (Ed. however.). Bloom. “It is clear. P. Boston: Faber and Faber. Sherrard. Palmer. New York: Vintage.). Levadia. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.E. Orthodox psychotherapy: The science of the Fathers. Vlachos. Moberly. Trans.oxfordjournals. 3. Minge (Ed. Cambridge: James Clarke.Trans. In: Michael W. Nikodimos and Makarios (Eds. NJ: Zephyr.Sexual Reorientation Therapy 153 20. This same ambiguity as to what constitutes success is to be found in Orthodox writers as well. Staniloae.). Virtually normal: An argument about homosexuality. Spiritual Perfection. Basic Books. Levadia. (G. Moberly. Ware. (1993).P. 2012 . John. (1994). A. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. In: J. (1857-1866). Vol. In: Sts. Downloaded from http://cb. St. (1986). S. Gnomic Anthology IV. PA: St. In: Sts. The Philokalia. (1968). Ilias the Presbyter. pp. Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic. Hierotheos. (2002). Ridgewood. Orthodox Spirituality (Archimandrite J. Kloos. (1999). Makarios of Egypt. St. (1995). The Republic of Plato (A. Tikhon’s Seminary Press. Gabriel. Fr.). Trans. The illness and cure of the soul in the Orthodox tradition. Patrologia Graeca 91:9–285.).). Fr. (2002). The sacred gift of life: Orthodox Christianity and bioethics.E.H. that the homosexual condition is often irreversible: the orientation is permanent. Palmer. & K. Hierotheos. Ignatius of Antioch. Vol. 3. South Canaan. The Philokalia. Epistle to the Ephesians. (G.Boston: Faber and Faber. John Breck (1998. E. Sullivan.H. D. Psychogenesis: The early development of gender identity. Nikodimos and Makarios (Eds.). J. Trans. Maximus the Confessor. The Ancestral Sin (G. (1998). NY: SVS Press. Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.). yet in the very next paragraph he writes. & Kallistos Ware. Vlachos.

org/ at University of Oklahoma on July 3. 2012 .Downloaded from http://cb.oxfordjournals.

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